Explore the role of “Dissociative Behavior in Infidelity” and discover how detachment from self and reality impacts relationships and recovery.

Dissociative Behavior in Infidelity

Graphic by HD Premium Shots

By Linda & Doug

When we ask mentoring or coaching clients about what lead to their infidelity, we often notice that clients describe feeling unusually detached from their emotions and decisions. It’s as if they’re on autopilot, moving through their relationships without truly connecting to their actions or considering the consequences.

This behavior is often referred to as ‘emotional dissociation,’ where individuals disconnect from their feelings and moral compass, making them more susceptible to making choices they might not otherwise consider.

Dissociative behavior involves a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity. People experiencing dissociation may feel detached from themselves or their surroundings. It’s as if they are observing their lives from outside their bodies. This can manifest in various ways, from mild detachment to severe disconnection from physical and emotional experiences.

In the context of infidelity, dissociative behaviors can be relevant before, during, and after an affair in the following ways:

Before an Affair

  • Rationalization and Denial: An individual may begin dissociating by mentally separating their actions from their values or beliefs. This can involve rationalizing potential infidelity as harmless or justified. It allows them to detach from any guilt or cognitive dissonance they might feel.
  • Emotional Numbing: Dissociation can also manifest as emotional numbing, where an individual feels disconnected from their feelings towards their partner. This numbness can make them more susceptible to seeking emotional or physical connections outside their relationship.

During an Affair

  • Compartmentalization: During an affair, a person might compartmentalize their life, effectively dissociating the part of themselves involved in the affair from the part that returns home to their spouse or partner. This mental separation helps manage the cognitive dissonance that comes from living a double life.
  • Altered Perception of Reality: Individuals might also experience a distorted perception of reality, viewing their affair through a dissociated lens that downplays the consequences or the impact on their primary relationship.

After an Affair

  • Memory Suppression: After an affair, especially if it ends or is discovered, a person might suppress memories of their actions as a way to cope with shame, guilt, or remorse. This dissociative amnesia can make it difficult for them to fully process the affair and its implications.
  • Emotional Detachment: To deal with the fallout of an affair, an individual might further dissociate by emotionally detaching from both their partner and the situation. This can hinder the healing and reconciliation process, as it prevents them from fully engaging with their feelings or the emotional work needed to rebuild trust.

Unlocking Healing in Relationships: Mastering Transparency After Infidelity

Relevance to Healing and Recovery

Understanding dissociative behaviors in the context of infidelity is crucial for both parties involved in the healing process. For the unfaithful partner, recognizing and addressing dissociative tendencies is a step towards taking responsibility for their actions and engaging in genuine remorse and change. For the betrayed partner, understanding these behaviors can provide insights into the complexities of their partner’s actions and the psychological mechanisms at play.

Things an Unfaithful Spouse Can Do:

To promote affair recovery and healing, an unfaithful partner can undertake several actions individually, with their spouse, and within the context of their marriage. Recognizing and addressing dissociative tendencies is a crucial first step in this process. Here’s a comprehensive list of actions that can facilitate recovery and healing:


  1. Self-Reflection and Acknowledgment: Take time to reflect on the affair, understanding the reasons behind it, including any dissociative behavior. Acknowledge the harm caused to your partner and the relationship.
  2. Seek Individual Therapy: Engage in therapy to explore the underlying issues that led to the affair, such as dissociation, emotional numbing, or compartmentalization. Therapy can offer strategies for dealing with these issues and preventing future infidelity.
  3. Practice Accountability: Take full responsibility for the affair without blaming your partner or external circumstances. Recognize the impact of your actions and commit to making amends.
  4. Develop Emotional Intelligence: Work on understanding and managing your emotions, as well as developing empathy towards your partner’s feelings and the pain caused by the affair.
  5. Establish Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Learn and practice healthy ways to deal with stress, dissatisfaction, or emotional distance in the relationship, rather than resorting to infidelity.
See also  Is Cheating Different From Infidelity?

With Their Spouse

  1. Open Communication: Establish a transparent and honest dialogue with your partner. Discuss your feelings, the reasons behind the affair, and listen to your partner’s perspective and feelings.
  2. Express Remorse and Commitment: Show genuine remorse for your actions and a sincere commitment to change. This includes expressing empathy for the pain caused and a willingness to do whatever it takes to rebuild trust.
  3. Support Your Partner’s Healing: Be patient and supportive as your partner goes through the healing process. Understand that recovery takes time and may involve a range of emotions.
  4. Attend Couples Therapy: Participate in couples therapy to address the impact of the affair on your relationship, improve communication, and work through issues related to trust and intimacy.
  5. Rebuild Trust Through Actions: Demonstrate your commitment to change through consistent and trustworthy behavior. Small, consistent actions over time are crucial in rebuilding trust.

In Their Marriage

  1. Establish New Relationship Boundaries: Work together to establish boundaries that protect your relationship, including transparency about interactions with others and access to digital devices.
  2. Recommit to the Relationship: Renew your commitment to each other and to the relationship, which may involve redefining your marriage’s values and goals.
  3. Work on Emotional Intimacy: Engage in activities that build emotional intimacy, such as spending quality time together, sharing vulnerabilities, and expressing affection and appreciation.
  4. Address Unresolved Issues: Use the affair as an opportunity to address and work through unresolved issues in your relationship, whether they relate to communication, sexual dissatisfaction, or unmet emotional needs.
  5. Create a Shared Vision for the Future: Collaboratively create a vision for your future together that includes mutual goals and dreams, reinforcing the commitment to a shared life path and healing the marriage.

Meet Brittany – An Illustration of Dissociative Behavior in Infidelity

Brittany is a dedicated but overworked marketing executive in her mid-30s, married to Michael, a high school teacher. They’ve been married for a decade, and despite starting off strong, the pressures of life, Brittany’s work stress, and their struggles to communicate needs led to emotional distance between them.

Before the Affair 

Brittany began staying late at work, using her job as an escape from the increasing tension at home. She justified her growing detachment by convincing herself that she was doing it for their future, to provide for Michael and the comfortable life they had envisioned. This rationalization marked the beginning of her dissociative behavior, as she mentally separated her actions from their impact on her marriage. Emotional numbing set in, making her less responsive to Michael’s attempts to connect, further widening the gap between them.

During the Affair

At a marketing conference, Brittany met Alex, a charismatic entrepreneur. What started as professional admiration soon turned into an emotional affair. Brittany compartmentalized her life, keeping Alex and the affair in a separate mental box away from her life with Michael. She told herself that by compartmentalizing, she wasn’t hurting Michael if he didn’t know about it. During her time with Alex, Brittany experienced an altered perception of reality, viewing her actions as detached from her “real life” with Michael. She saw the affair through a dissociated lens, convincing herself that this parallel life did not affect her marriage.

See also  The Cheating Spouse Follows a Script

After the Affair and Recovery Process

Michael discovered the affair when he found messages on Brittany’s phone. The revelation broke their already fragile relationship. Brittany was forced to face the dissociative behaviors that had allowed her to carry on the affair. She initially found it hard to recall or fully acknowledge the details of her betrayal, a symptom of memory suppression.

Fragmented Memories and Denial

As Brittany and Michael delved into the healing process, Brittany encountered moments where her memory of the affair felt fragmented and disjointed. At times, she inadvertently denied events or conversations related to the affair. This wasn’t out of deceit.  But because those memories were locked away in a compartment of her mind she subconsciously refused to access. This selective amnesia served as a defense mechanism.  It sheilded her from full guilt and remorse but also hindering open dialogue with Michael.

Dissociative Numbing

In the initial stages of their recovery, Brittany often found herself unusually detached from her emotions. This numbness wasn’t limited to feelings of guilt or sadness associated with the affair but extended to positive emotions as well. Moments that should have sparked joy or affection, like shared laughter or a tender embrace from Michael, felt muted. This dissociative numbing served as a way for her psyche to create a buffer against overwhelming emotions, yet it also made it difficult for her to fully engage in the emotional work necessary for the healing of their marriage.

Altered Self-Perception

As the reality of her actions and their impact on Michael and their relationship sank in, Brittany struggled with her self-image. She experienced periods of depersonalization, feeling disconnected from the person who had the affair and the person she aspired to be. This altered self-perception was disorienting, making it hard for her to reconcile her actions with her self-identity. She felt like an observer of her life, struggling to integrate these contrasting parts of herself into a cohesive whole.

Avoidance and Escapism

Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding trust and intimacy, Brittany sometimes engaged in avoidance and escapism. She threw herself into work, hobbies, or any activity that could momentarily distract her from the reality of the situation. While on the surface, these activities seemed like a healthy diversion, they often served as a way for her to dissociate from the painful work of recovery, delaying the healing process for both her and Michael.

Emotional Swings and Unpredictable Reactions

As Brittany worked through her dissociative tendencies, her emotional landscape became erratic. The walls she had built around her emotions began to crumble, leading to unpredictable swings in mood and reaction. Moments of clarity and connection with Michael could swiftly turn into episodes of withdrawal or irritability as the floodgates of suppressed emotions opened. These swings were confusing and distressing for both Brittany and Michael, adding another layer of complexity to their recovery journey.

The Path to Reintegration

Recognizing these dissociative behaviors as barriers to their healing, Brittany committed to addressing them head-on. With the support of therapy and a renewed commitment to transparency and vulnerability, she began the slow process of reintegration. This journey involved confronting and accepting the full spectrum of her emotions, rebuilding her self-identity, and learning healthier coping mechanisms. As Brittany became more present and engaged in her own healing, she and Michael found new strength in their relationship, navigating the aftermath of the affair with greater empathy, understanding, and a shared commitment to a future together.

See also  How to Confront a Cheating Spouse

Through this challenging process, Brittany learned that healing from dissociation and rebuilding a marriage after infidelity is not a linear journey but a continuous effort to confront the shadows of the past, embrace the vulnerability of the present, and foster a shared vision for the future.

Things a Betrayed Spouse Can Do:

For a betrayed partner, affair recovery means navigating complex emotions and understanding their partner’s psychological motives.  Here’s a list of constructive actions that can be taken individually, with their spouse, and within the marriage:


  1. Allow Yourself to Feel: Give yourself permission to experience and express the full range of emotions that come with betrayal, including anger, grief, sadness, and confusion.
  2. Seek Individual Support: Consider therapy or support groups to process your feelings, gain perspective, and receive guidance on coping strategies.
  3. Educate Yourself: Learning about dissociative behaviors and the psychological aspects of infidelity can provide insights into your partner’s actions, helping to depersonalize their behavior and understand it’s not a reflection of your worth.
  4. Focus on Self-Care: Prioritize your physical and emotional well-being through activities that promote relaxation, happiness, and health.
  5. Set Boundaries for Healing: Determine what you need for your healing process, including space, time, or specific actions from your partner.

Self-Worth and Self-Forgiveness – Plus 45 Quotes That Helped Me Heal

With Their Spouse

  1. Communicate Openly and Honestly: Engage in open dialogues about your feelings, needs, and expectations from the healing process. This includes discussing the affair’s impact on you and your relationship.
  2. Participate in Couples Therapy: Work with a therapist or coach/mentor who specializes in infidelity to navigate the recovery process, improve communication, and rebuild trust.
  3. Establish a New Foundation for Trust: Work together on actions and behaviors that rebuild trust, including transparency, accountability, and consistent efforts from the unfaithful partner.
  4. Define a Shared Path Forward: Collaboratively decide on the steps to rebuild your relationship, including the vision for your future together and the changes needed to prevent future betrayals.
  5. Engage in Joint Healing Activities: Participate in activities or rituals that symbolize renewal and commitment, such as renewing vows or creating new, positive memories together.

In Their Marriage

  1. Reevaluate Relationship Dynamics: Together, assess and address any underlying issues in the relationship that may have contributed to the distance or dissatisfaction.
  2. Rebuild Emotional Intimacy: Focus on rebuilding emotional connections through empathy, vulnerability, and shared experiences.
  3. Recommit to the Marriage: Both partners should express their commitment to the relationship and to the healing process, acknowledging that both have roles to play in recovery.
  4. Create New Relationship Boundaries: Establish new boundaries that protect the relationship, ensuring both partners feel secure and respected.
  5. Foster a Culture of Appreciation: Regularly express appreciation and gratitude for each other, focusing on the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship to rebuild a foundation of love and respect.

Healing from infidelity is a deeply personal and unique journey for each couple. It requires patience, commitment, and the willingness to confront painful emotions and realities. By focusing on individual healing and open communication, both partners can navigate the complexities of recovery. Together, they work towards a stronger, more resilient union.

However, it’s important to note that while dissociation can play a role in infidelity, it doesn’t excuse harmful behaviors. Healing from infidelity involves confronting difficult emotions and behaviors directly. Often, this process requires support from a therapist or counselor experienced in these issues.

Have you faced similar challenges in your relationship, or have insights on navigating the complexities of affair recovery? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comment section below.  We’d love to hear from you and learn from your journey.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.